Good Things

Brief notes.

The Deep Blue Sea Terence Davies' latest effort transcribes an intimate narrative of doomed romance and unrequited love onto the highly coded civility and class dynamics of London, circa 1950. As in Davies' exquisite adaptation of The House of Mirth (this one's from a play by Terence Rattigan), the increasingly grim situation of its heroine (a never-better Rachel Weisz) is inextricably tied to the particular historical circumstances of her society and her awkward place within it, allowing Davies to both empathize with her tragic (or as Weisz's Hester corrects another character: "Don't say tragic; it's hardly Sophocles. Sad, maybe...") plight while longing for the lost world of textures, objects, sounds, and manners represented by his lovingly, meticulously recreated post-War England. In this regard, the core concerns and filmic motifs of The Deep Blue Sea connect neatly (and in some ways, perhaps serve to further) the personal/historical preoccupations that Davies has mined from the early classics Distant Voices, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes through to his recent cine-essay Of Time and the City; his standing as Britain's greatest living filmmaker remains firmly intact.

We Need to Talk About Kevin Lynne Ramsay's long-awaited third feature is either a sporadically stunning experiment, diluted somewhat by nods to narrative convention in its second half and by flirtations with too-neat cliches regarding troubled youths. Or it's a pitch-black satirical commentary on the "disturbed child" genre (think: The Omen, The Good Son, etc.) and how the implied failures of maternal essentialism built into the form of these films play in the post-Columbine era. A second viewing might help to determine which direction Ramsay's film is weighted more toward, but as a parent, following up is a less than inviting prospect. Either way, it's strong work and ambitious, to be sure, though it ultimately lacks the hypnotic tone and cadence that made her Morvern Callar so singularly striking.

Kathleen Edwards, Voyageur After many listens to this one, I'm still not quite sure whether Voyageur represents a step forward for Edwards or more of a lateral move, with its Justin Vernon sonics sometimes getting in the way of, or even undermining, the austere beauty of Edwards' aesthetic. A case-in-point is "Chameleon/Comedian," one of the new album's strongest tracks, yet one that registers more affectingly in its rougher-'round-the-edges live version (minus the Bon Iveriness of the studio cut). The sparer "House Full of Empty Rooms," meanwhile, would've fit nicely on Asking for Flowers, an album I'm not sure she'll ever top, even as she keeps on keepin' on as one of the best singer-songwriters working today.

Lana Del Rey, Born to Die Right, there's nothing on here that touches "Video Games," but "Carmen," "Dark Paradise," "Blue Jeans," the title cut and maybe a couple others are good enough that true believers should hold out hope that the duds included on this long-player were hiccups from the beleaguered production/post-production/promotion process--and that the best is yet to come, "Video Games" notwithstanding. For an artist who cites Kurt Cobain and the music from David Lynch movies as primary influences and whose pop instincts are (arguably) more idiosyncratic than Gaga's, I think that optimism is mostly justified.

Britney Spears, "How I Roll" A year since its release, Femme Fatale is the gift that keeps on giving. Take, for example, the chorus of what initially sounded like one of the album's lesser tracks: "{I wanna go) downtown where my posse's at / (because I got) nine lives like a kitty cat." The first half of this couplet contains what might be a euphemism for masturbation (a recurring subject on Britney's later records--sometimes subtly, others times not). Of course, "go downtown" could just as well be taken literally as an off-handed lyric, but the homonymic potential of the directly following "posse" suggests otherwise. Then the simile "like a kitty cat" invites a synonym for "pussy" as in feline but also in slang sexual terms, reinforcing the readings of "posse" as suggestive homonym (clearly mistakable in Brit's delivery) and the "go downtown" as masturbatory. Delivered in isolation, none of these components of the chorus ("go downtown," "where my posse's at" "kitty cat") would necessarily connote much beyond the banal of the lyrically throwaway, but taken together they signify in a way that I can't for the life of me think of a comparable instance in song lyrics, poetry, or prose. Perhaps Nabokov might've pulled off a similar linguistic trick, at some point?

Mad Men, Season 5 So far, so great. Don's dream in last week's episode--controversial in some quarters--felt like a natural extension of his own paranoia, guilt, and profoundly ambivalent feelings toward women. It's a strikingly dark bit of pop-Freudian foreshadowing (?), as effectively realized and memorable as some of the best Sopranos dream sequences; the cut from Don's dream-victim tucked under the bed to poor, scared, drugged Sally asleep under the couch is perhaps the most brilliant edit in the history of this superb series.